Photo: Myanmar student protesters and nationalists clash with riot police during a march in Letpadan township on 10 March © Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
The violent police crackdown on largely peaceful protesters in Myanmar amounts to unnecessary and excessive use of force and must end immediately, Amnesty International said.
Police today forcibly dispersed student protesters who had gathered in Letpadan township in Myanmar’s central Bago Region to protest a new education law. Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that when protesters tried to dismantle a police blockade, police started beating protesters, including some who had fallen to the ground, with batons.
“The violent response by police in Myanmar against the student protesters in Letpadan was completely disproportionate. Police clearly used excessive force against protesters, and also beat helpless people who had fallen to the ground, which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Eyewitness accounts and images of police beating fleeing demonstrators with batons are a stark reminder of just how repressive the climate still is for activism in the country.”
“The authorities in Myanmar must immediately instruct the police to refrain from any unnecessary or excessive use of force, and hold to account all officers responsible for human rights violations. Although there are reports of stone throwing by protesters, the police’s actions appear to have gone well beyond an acceptable response.”
According to credible sources, some of the protesters were detained and taken away in police trucks. It is not clear whether they have been charged.
“Anyone who has simply protested peacefully should not have to face reprisals, arrest or criminal charges for doing so. Myanmar’s authorities have a long and troubling history of locking up peaceful demonstrators – this must not be allowed to happen in this case,” said Rupert Abbott.
Students in Myanmar have for months been protesting the newly adopted National Education Law, which they say curtails academic freedom. In January 2015, student groups from across the country began a series of peaceful marches towards Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
In February marches were suspended as the authorities and student leaders engaged in talks to amend the law. However, as talks broke down, student leaders attempted to resume the march on 3 March while police tried to prevent it – leading to the current standoff.